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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Ind. Decisions - "2 of 3 felony convictions dismissed in 2010 Lake Monroe boating death case"

Tuesday's 28-page opinion in Winston K. Wood v. State of Indiana was the subject of a story yesterday in the $$ Bloomington Herald-Times, reported by Laura Lane:

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed two of the three felony convictions against a Bloomington man whose boat collided with another in 2010, resulting in the deaths of a woman and her 8-year-old grandson.

The ruling determined that finding Winston Wood guilty of three felony charges of leaving the scene of an accident was double jeopardy, punishing him three times for one crime.

So one conviction for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death remains. A second conviction for the same charge, plus another for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury, are to be dismissed.

Wood, who was 19 when the boating accident happened, also will receive a $2,000 refund for fines levied for those two convictions during his 2012 sentencing hearing.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge James Kirsch said the law regarding leaving the scene of a boating accident is vague. His dissent states that Wood acted “reasonably” when he drove his boat away from the scene of the fatal collision because he believed it was damaged and taking on water. Kirsch said Wood had no knowledge of the statute or what it required in an emergency situation.

Wood was not charged with causing the crash, or with being responsible for the deaths of Susan Collier and Gage Pruett and the injuries suffered by Rusty Collier. The investigation determined that the operators of both watercraft — Wood’s ski boat and the Collier’s fishing boat — were at fault because neither diverted to avoid the accident.

Katharine Liell, Wood’s lawyer, said Kirsch’s dissent will form the basis of her appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court in seeking a dismissal of the remaining conviction against her client.

“We think Judge Kirsch's dissent nailed it,” she said late Tuesday afternoon. “Even the majority opinion says the statute can lead to absurd results, and permits no consideration of what is reasonable in an emergency. This opinion begs for the Supreme Court to clarify.” * * *

The majority opinion, written by Judge Melissa May and supported by Judge John Baker, says that while there was sufficient evidence to convict Wood, he only left the scene of the accident one time and thus cannot be convicted of more than that. May cites a 1997 precedent case in which the appeals court ruled a woman who struck two motorcyclists with her car and left the scene could be charged only once for that act.

“Even though two people died and another was injured, Wood’s act of leaving the scene of the boating accident can support only one conviction,” May wrote. “Wood’s three convictions …subjected him to double jeopardy, as he was punished three times for an act he committed only once.”

But May, too, raises issues with the law. “This prosecution has brought to light serious concerns about the statute that criminalizes Wood’s behavior,” she wrote. “This statute permits no consideration of what is reasonable in any given emergency situation.”

In a footnote, May said “we share the concerns articulated in Judge Kirsch’s well-reasoned dissent.”

Wood said in court he was overcome by panic the evening of June 28, 2010, after seeing Susan Collier’s dead body floating in the water after the collision at sunset on Lake Monroe. He said then that not helping the victims and speeding away from the scene was wrong.

“I certainly should have helped Mr. Collier retrieve his wife’s body. I should have helped Mr. Collier and his grandsons by getting them safely returned to shore. I failed to do so.”

There are a number of interesting reader comments to the story on the H-T website, including this one by "Bob Miller posted at 10:24 am on Wed, Jan 1, 2014":
As the prosecutor who handled the case at trial I'd like to clarify a few points from the HT story. First, it should be kept in mind that Mr. Wood remains convicted of a Class "C" felony for leaving the scene. All of the original charges were valid as were the jury's guilty findings. The Court of Appeals decision deals with the multiple conviction scenario for the first time and they held that a judgment of conviction may only be entered for one act of leaving the scene. Consequently, in the future trial courts are now informed by this decision that when a jury returns multiple verdicts of guilty for one act of leaving the scene, only one judgement of conviction may be entered. This decision does not alter the prison sentence imposed on Mr. Wood, only the fines for the other two counts.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 2, 2014 09:40 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions